I have been to a few councils for ministry ordination. One frequent passage that is brought to the candidate is Philippians 2: 7 which says that Jesus “emptied himself.” What exactly did he do in that passage?
Did he empty himself of his deity? That is contrary to the teaching of the church through the ages, and contrary to the scriptures itself.
There is a passage in John’s Gospel that sheds some light in this question. It is when Jesus washes the feet of the Disciples in John 13.
I could go so far as to say that Philippians 2 is a commentary on Jesus as a Servant. If not a commentary, a song: many hold that it is actually a hymn of the early church.
Here is John 13:1-5:
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
John speaks of what Jesus knows, that he is from the Father and returning to the Father. That he has god-like power in that “the Father had given all thins into his hands.” As the LORD, Jesus removed his regular clothing and took on the clothing of a house servant and set out to do a very humbling work – he washed their feet.
…he made himself nothing taking on the very nature of a servant… (2:7)
The link is made stronger in that Philippians begins with an challenge to believers to serve each other, to be humble and considers others first. (Phil 2:1-4). This is to be done in imitation of Christ (Phil 2:5).
In John 13 Jesus said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you….”
So there is an ethical link – Jesus act of foot washing (John) and his submission to death on a cross (Philippians) are motives and models of Christian service. I do not believe that foot washing is now a sacrament, but a picture of the way of life of all who follow Jesus. If he, the Lord, the Master lowers himself to serve, what should we do?